Satellite view of a hurricane.


Health Risks in the Wake of a Hurricane

September 7, 2017

Natural disasters remind us that the health of a thriving population can become endangered in a matter of moments. With the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and Hurricane Irma poised to impact the east coast, disaster relief expert William Blazey, D.O., assistant dean of Pre-Clinical Affairs at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), wants to remind those in affected communities that peril continues in the aftermath of a catastrophe; victims and responders are often unknowingly exposed to an array of short and long-term health risks.

“Following a major storm, the need for medical attention is higher than ever, when otherwise healthy individuals are more susceptible to disease, infection, and psychological disorders,” says Blazey.

Having provided emergency medical care to populations in crisis in the United States and in developing nations such as El Salvador and Haiti, Blazey can attest that this increased need for medical attention also requires that patients’ medical history be readily available.


William Blazey, D.O., meeting with members of the community in Jacmel, Haiti, to provide medical care and discuss community needs.

“Patients are more likely to suffer a range of health issues requiring urgent care, from cardiovascular disease to respiratory illness, as well as skin disorders and infections,” he explains. “Every second counts in emergency response situations. When the ability to adequately deliver care is already delayed by hazardous conditions such as flooding, the additional time needed to locate one’s health history can further complicate care and postpone treatment, which can be deadly for patients living with chronic diseases.”

And he doesn’t mean electronic records—which may not be available during a disaster. Blazey recommends individuals have quick access to physical records of their prescriptions and health history. “We tend to believe that we’ll have the necessary information at our fingertips with our smart phones, or that our physician will be able to access the files, but issues such as loss of electricity and cell tower outages can prevent patients from accessing their medical information when they need it most,” says Blazey.

Disaster victims are not the only ones at risk for serious health issues. “In acting as caregivers, first responders may prioritize the basic needs of others before their own,” says Blazey. “Dismissing small items, such as the need for dry socks and footwear, can lead to skin breakdown, whereby the responder becomes a patient of infection and microbial disease,” he says.

Self-neglect in victims or responders may also signal the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with recovered addicts being more likely to return to old habits. “The effects of a disaster can lead individuals to seek the comfort of self-destructive patterns,” says Blazey. “We see that the need for counseling is higher following events such as Hurricane Harvey, but the good news is that many organizations, including the American Red Cross, can provide these services to assist victims and manage the long-term trauma,” he says.